Panko Fried Oysters (カキフライ – Kaki Fry)
With a shatteringly crisp panko shell holding onto a plump juicy oyster on the inside, Kaki Fry is a popular way of preparing these delicious marine mollusks in Japan. Japanese fried oysters are typically eaten as an entre along with various sauces, but they also make for delicious appetizers.
Although Kaki Fry is considered a Western-style dish in Japan, a few key differences set this preparation apart from other deep fried oysters. The biggest distinction is that Japanese fried oysters are coated in panko. This gives the coating a thicker, crispier crust than oysters coated in Western-style breadcrumbs. I have a few culinary tricks in this recipe to make these the best fried oysters you’ve ever had, so let’s jump into it.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Washing the oysters with a mixture of sake, baking soda, and salt does a few things:
- Cleans any surface dirt or grit from the oysters
- Neutralizes any unpleasant odors
- Plumps up the oyster, giving it a nice round shape.
- The batter acts like glue, helping the panko adhere to the oysters. It also crisps up and creates a barrier between the panko and the juicy oyster inside, which keeps the Kaki Fry crispy for longer.
- Oroshi Ponzu makes a refreshing citrusy dipping sauce that goes great with these Japanese fried oysters.
Ingredients for Kaki Fry
- Oysters – I like to use fairly large oysters for Kaki Fry (or any cooked oyster recipe for that matter). These ones were about 40 grams apiece (shucked). Large oysters tend to have a more robust flavor than their smaller counterparts, and the mass makes them cook slower, which buys you time to brown the panko crust without overcooking the oyster. I got my oysters pre-shucked, but make sure they are very fresh if you go this route.
- Baking soda – Although it’s most commonly used as a leavening for baked goods, baking soda has a lot of other great culinary uses. In this recipe, the baking soda reduces unpleasant odors in the oysters while firming up the texture, which gives them a more plump appearance when fried.
- Salt – Salt serves two purposes here. The first is that the salt draws out water from the oyster, which also draws out contaminants. The salt also seasons the oyster.
- Sake – Sake is often used as an ingredient in Japanese food because the high concentration of amino acids triggers the umami taste buds in your mouth. If you don’t want to use sake here, water will also work.
- Batter – The traditional method to panko coat foods is to dredge them in flour and then coat them with egg. It’s tricky to get a good balance of flour to egg on oysters because they have an irregular shape. Making a batter with the egg and flour (along with a bit of flour) helps create an even layer of “glue” that helps the panko adhere to the fried oysters. The batter also crisps up nicely, creating a barrier between the juicy inside and the crispy panko on the outside.
- Panko – Panko, or Japanese breadcrumbs, are larger and less dense than Western breadcrumbs. This gives the Kaki Fry its unique crispy texture on the outside. If you can’t find panko near you, you can make it yourself by cutting the crusts off of sandwich bread, tearing it up into small pieces, and then pulsing them in a food processor until you have crumbs that range in size from 1/8 to 1/16 inch.
Ingredients for Oroshi Ponzu Sauce
- Daikon – Daikon is a giant white radish native to East Asia that’s milder in flavor than the smaller red ones eaten in the West. When grated, it makes a popular condiment called daikon oroshi (大根おろし), which is often served with grilled fish. When combined with ponzu, it makes for a zingy sauce called Oroshi Ponzu.
- Yuzu juice – Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit known for its tangy juice and sweet fragrance between Meyer lemon, mandarin, and grapefruit. The juice can be purchased bottled at Japanese grocery stores and online. Good yuzu juice has a layer of “cream” floating on top, and you also want to try and find a bottle that doesn’t have any additives such as salt.
- Soy sauce – Soy sauce seasons the Oroshi Ponzu. I used a standard Japanese soy sauce for this.
- Sugar – A bit of sugar helps balance the sharp acidity of the yuzu juice, as well as the saltiness of the soy sauce.
Do You Rinse Oysters Before Frying?
This is a topic that’s probably going to elicit some debate, so I want to give you some context. Western chefs will argue that the liquid in and around the oyster is where all of the flavors are, so washing an oyster is akin to washing a bag of potato chips.
Oysters are bivalves that feed by filtering water through their gills and trapping microorganisms, along with nutrients and organic particles, which they feed off of. Unfortunately, this also results in dirt and sand and undesirable microorganisms getting trapped in the gills. Although it’s not a very appetizing thought, oysters are basically living filters that clean our waterways and oceans. Like the filter on your AC or vacuum cleaner, they hold on to any contaminants in the water they’re raised in. That’s why oysters are considered dirty and are washed before being used here in Japan.
So what effect does washing have on the taste of the oysters? Anecdotally I’ve noticed that washing oysters before eating them raw makes them taste blander (presumably because of the lower salinity of tap water). Since cooked oysters will contain much less surface water than raw ones, I wanted to get a more objective measure on whether washing has an effect on fried oysters. To do this, I tested them three ways:
- Control – Not washed
- Group 2 – Washed with sake and salt
- Group 3 – Washed with sake, salt, and baking soda
I didn’t have enough testers to make the test scientifically sound (sample size of 3), but most people said they couldn’t taste any difference between the preparations. The one consistent piece of feedback I got was that group 3 looked the best. This was due to the baking soda firming up the meat, causing the finished Kaki Fry to appear larger and plumper. One tester also noted that group 3 smelled less fishy than the other two. Since there doesn’t appear to be any downside to washing for cooked oysters (and some possible upsides), I’m going to recommend this method for cleaning oysters.
How to Fry Oysters
To clean the oysters, dump them into a bowl along with the baking soda, salt, and sake. Swish them around with your hand, being careful not to tear or smash them. Let the oysters soak for a few minutes while you prepare the other components of this dish.
Make the oroshi ponzu sauce by peeling and grating the daikon and then straining off the excess water with a fine-mesh sieve. Add the strained daikon, yuzu juice, soy sauce, and sugar to a bowl and combine.
To make the batter, whisk the egg and water until everything is evenly combined. Add the flour and mix this until the batter is smooth and free of lumps. Prepare a tray or bowl with the panko.
Now you want to rinse the oysters off. The best way to do this is to add cold water to the bowl and agitate the oysters before draining off the water. You want to get as much of the slime and grime off the oysters as possible, but you don’t want to let them soak in the water so long that they start to absorb the freshwater.
Next, you need to dry the oysters off very well; otherwise, they will spatter like crazy when you fry them. I usually lay down a few sheets of paper towels and place the drained oysters on top. Then I’ll pat the tops dry with some additional paper towels.
Once your oysters are cleaned and dried, add two inches of vegetable oil to a heavy-bottomed pan and preheat it to 340° F ( 170° C). Unless you are using a deep fryer, I recommend checking the oil temperature using an instant read thermometer throughout the frying process. Next, prepare a cooling rack by lining it with a few sheets of paper towels.
To bread the oysters with panko, pick them up by the dark mantle with chopsticks or tongs and dip them in the batter to coat every surface.
Drop the battered oyster in the panko and shake it around while scooping some breadcrumbs on top of them until they are evenly coated in a thick crust of panko. Transfer the panko-crusted oysters to a clean try. Oysters are delicate, so don’t press on them or handle them too much.
To deep-fry the oysters, lower them in batches into the hot oil using tongs or a slotted spoon and let them fry for a minute to set the batter and panko on the outside.
Once the crust is set, flip them over once and continue frying until the oysters are golden brown and cooked through. How long this takes will depend on how big your oysters are, but mine took about two to three additional minutes. If the oysters are sputtering and popping the moment you add them to the oil, this means you did not dry them off enough. If this starts happening after they’ve been frying for a while, this means the oysters are becoming overcooked. You’ll want to get them out of the oil as soon as possible.
Place the fried oysters on the prepared rack to drain and serve them as soon as you don’t see oil bubbling out of the panko anymore. They’re extremely hot and juicy, though, so be careful!
Popular Japanese Fried Recipes
Kaki Fry (カキフライ) literally means “fried oysters” in Japanese, and it’s a dish that fits within the Yōshoku (Western food) genre of Japanese cuisine. It’s made by breading oysters with panko and deep-frying them until they’re golden brown and crisp. There are several creation stories, but it’s most commonly associated with a restaurant in Ginza called Rengatei, which is also usually credited with inventing Tonkatsu as well as Omurice.
Kaki Fry is a 5-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts.)
ka like copy
ki like key
fu like who
ra like the “ra” sound does not exist in the English language and the best way to make it is to say the word “romp” with the tip of your tongue at the front of your mouth.
i like even
Panko literally means “bread crumbs” in Japanese. It differs from Western bread crumbs because it’s made from the center (white part) of sandwich bread. This makes it less dense than traditional breadcrumbs, and the crumbs themselves tend to be much larger in size. The result is that foods coated in panko tend to have a lighter, crispier texture.
Kaki Fry can be served as is or in a sandwich. Typical condiments include lemon wedges, tonkatsu sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, tartar sauce or hot sauce. Personally, I like serving my fried oysters with either ponzu or remoulade sauce. As with most Japanese fried foods, Kaki Fry is usually accompanied by a shredded cabbage salad. Leftovers also make a really good Kaki Fry Donburi. To make it, you can follow the recipe for my Chicken Katsudon, substituting the Kaki Fry for the Chicken Katsu.
- 380 grams shucked oysters 10 large oysters
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons water
- 25 grams flour (about 3 tablespoons)
- 60 grams panko (~1 1/2 cups)
- Oil for deep frying
For Oroshi Ponzu
- 100 grams daikon
- ½ tablespoon yuzu juice
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- Add the oysters to a bowl along with the baking soda, salt, and sake. Agitate everything together with your hand to gently scrub the oysters against each other. Let this rest for a few minutes while preparing the sauce and batter.
- For the Oroshi Ponzu sauce, peel and grate the daikon.
- Add the grated daikon to a fine-mesh strainer and press with your fingers to drain off some of the excess water.
- Transfer the daikon to a bowl and add the yuzu juice, soy sauce, and sugar. Stir to combine.
- For the batter, beat the egg and water together with a whisk until it’s uniform in color. Add the flour and whisk until the mixture is free of lumps. Add the panko to a second container, such as a bowl or a small tray.
- Rinse the oysters in cold water, agitating them with your hand to free up and wash away any slime that has come out of the oysters.
- When the oysters are clean, lay them out on a few sheets of paper towels and pat them dry with more paper towels.
- Preheat a deep pot with 2 inches of oil to 340° F ( 170° C). Line a cooling rack with a few sheets of paper towels.
- To bread the oysters, dip them in the batter to coat evenly.
- Transfer the oysters to the panko and then shake the container around, scooping the panko on top to coat them with an even layer of breadcrumbs.
- Gently transfer the panko-coated oyster to a clean tray and repeat with the rest of the oysters.
- Lower the breaded oysters into the preheated oil with tongs or chopsticks and fry them undisturbed for about a minute to set the panko.
- Flip the oysters over and continue frying, flipping periodically, until the oysters are golden brown and cooked through (another 2-3 minutes for large oysters).
- Drain the Kaki Fry on the prepared rack and then serve the fried oysters on a bed of thinly shredded cabbage with the Oroshi Ponzu and lemon wedges for garnish.